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Heather

Calluna vulgaris

  • Name also: Ling, Common Heather, Scottish Heather, White Heather
  • Family: Heather Family – Ericaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial dwarf shrub.
  • Height: 10–50 cm (4–20 in.). Stem erect, densely branched, woody.
  • Flower: Corolla campanulate, light purple or occasionally white, fused, deeply 4-lobed. Sepals 4, same colour as corolla, 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in.) long, longer than corolla. Stamens 8, protruding from flower. A single carpel. Inflorescence a one-sided raceme, flowers short-stalked.
  • Leaves: Opposite, stalkless, stipule-like lobes at base, overwintering. Blade needle-like, with entire, revolute margins.
  • Fruit: Hairy capsule protected by calyx.
  • Habitat: Light-filled and dry forest heaths, sandy areas, bogs, rocks, fells.
  • Flowering time: July–August.

Heather is so common in the Finnish wild that its beauty is rarely appreciated, but in central Europe the species is admired as a rockery ornamental. Heather likes dry, light-filled places (xerophyte), and it doesn’t do well at all in forest shade. It is especially fond of forest fires, which keep its habitat open and help its seeds germinate. The fire burns up its shoots, but the rootstock’s ability to recover quickly means it can rapidly fix any damage caused by fire, frost or drought. Modest-looking heather can usually achieve a respectable 25 years of age, and plants that are even 50 years old have been found.

Heather blooms at the end of the summer, most abundantly in August. Usually both the calyx and the smaller corolla are reddish violet, but sometimes there are plants that are unable to form purple anthocyanins, which means that the flowers are white. An abundance of nectar attracts many kinds of insects such as butterflies and bees to heather’s flowers. Honey from the flowers is dark and aromatic. In central Europe heather is mainly pollinated by bees, but in Finland its most important pollinator is the very small heather thrips. Heather spider and other tiny predators prey on the pollinators. Heather’s pollen is also carried on the wind.

The Heather family’s scientific name comes from the Greek word meaning to purify or sweep up. Its shoots have certainly been used to make brooms, but also as a dye and to tan leather. The flowers produce a calming and pleasant-tasting tea. Heather is the provincial flower of Kainuu.

Other species from the same family

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